A couple of weeks ago, I had resigned myself to a new way of life: I was convinced that I had my first cavity. At the ripe old age of thirty-four, my teeth had failed me and were rotting away, one by one, I was certain. Not one for drama, of course, I took my husband’s tactical flashlight in the bathroom, turned off the lights, and opened my mouth to check my molars. I am uncertain what I expected to find, black teeth or spots, but I called the dentist the next day to schedule a cleaning, then stared at the ceiling for weeks of straight nights until I was able to be seen.
Staring at ceiling during the night has been my way of life for several months now. It started around the first of fall, when I would drift off to sleep quickly, but wake up in a cold sweat every morning around 4:35am. Did I respond to that email at work? Did I sign that field trip form for my daughter? Did that text I sent come off less than friendly? What if that goat down at the barn births babies and it is too cold for them to live? What if I made someone mad at me in the third grade, and that’s why she ignored me at the store the other day?
At first I tried adding to-do items to a list on my phone, but that led to checking texts, Facebook messages, Donald Trump on Twitter, several email accounts, and then binge watching House of Cards on the couch until I fell asleep again. An hour or so later, it was time for the day to begin.
This cycle became perpetual. I would dread falling asleep because my mind was my worst enemy. Around month four of this nonsense, I came home from work one afternoon, and my husband took one look at me and said, “Go lay down. Now”. I slept for twelve hours that night, then another twelve the next. I don’t know what I said or how I looked that afternoon, but when I awoke from my slumber and realized that the world had not stopped turning while I was unconscious, it suddenly occurred to me I was losing sleep over things I cannot control at midnight. When I am asleep, I am not awake, and things are not getting done. And that was a literal nightmare for me.
I opened up to some friends about this a few weeks ago, about the nagging need to save the world at bedtime. Their suggestion was simple: 1.) Stop saving the list on your phone. That causes you to check a billion things on the internet. Whatever emails you read at midnight, there’s nothing you can do about it until morning anyway. 2.) Get a simple notebook. One of those cheap, one subject, wide ruled ones. Don’t choose a pretty journal for this project. Because, every night before bed, you are going to write whatever is in your head. No one is going to read it, and at the end of the year, you are going to burn it anyway.
At first I was not convinced, because if you’ve known me for five minutes, you know that technology is my friend. I practically sleep with my MacBook, social media and blogging are my outlets, and an Apple watch was my most favorite Christmas present. So I pushed the advice aside, until last weekend I was searching for a list of paint colors we had used on our home when we first moved in, and I found a brand new, completely blank, spiral bound green notebook in the drawer with the paint colors. It had no business being in that dresser drawer, and frankly, I was offended by its presence. But my interest was also piqued, so I laid it on top of the dresser until nightfall. And I wrote in it. And I slept. And I woke up and felt rested. And I repeated the process.
I always felt like I was somehow immune to the idea that you can “do it all” and do it well. I knew in my heart that was a fallacy; we are human and no one can do it all and well. They can do all the things on a moderate to low level of quality, or they can do a few things very well. But, you can’t have both. But, I had trained myself in a robotic sense to get things done twenty four seven. And had forgotten our vision four years ago to move to a farm to simplify our lives and get the world’s voice out of our heads. I have been looking to God for “what’s next?” instead of “what’s right now, in this moment”; of gratitude for family and Legos and chickens in the backyard and pausing to enjoy what is in front of me.
Sometimes, it is okay to live in the tension of our imperfection. To know and understand that we all wear many hats, and sometimes I am not going to have all of the answers. Sometimes I am going to mess up, or disappoint someone. I will forget to sign a field trip form, because I have three of everything to sign all of the time. Sometimes I will have runs in my tights at work. Sometimes I will be on my phone in line at the checkout, when I should be talking to that girl I knew in the third grade. And someday, I will get a cavity.
But not this week. “Open up and let me check that back molar. How long has it been bothering you?” “Um, a few months”, I said. “If I have a cavity, it is okay. I will not cry on you. Because I am an adult”. She chuckled and replied, “Your teeth look great; cavity free. But one thing: have you been under any amount of stress lately? You appear to have been grinding or clenching your mouth. Probably at night. That is what is causing the dull pain”.
That night I filled out a few sentences in that stupid little green notebook. The one I am going to burn at the end of the year anyway. And then I slept. All night long.
(Note: This article originally appeared in the LaFollette Press, in my lifestyles column, Letters from the Nest).
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